Sunday, March 23, 2014

Window on Eurasia: By Seizing Crimea, Moscow Acquires Yet Another Problem – More Russian Criminal Groups

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 23 – The Russian Federation has acquired many problems by its annexation of Crimea – international opprobrium, the eternal hostility of Ukrainians, and the prospective costs of running the place, to name just three – but it has also “gained” one few expected – a dramatic boost in the number of criminal groups now within its borders.

            Indeed, according to Sergey Kanyev, a journalist at “Novaya gazeta,” the level of crime is so high and the complicity of the authorities so great that most residents of Crimea, just like many residents of Russian rural areas, “for serious help more often turn not to law enforcement organs but to criminal authorities” (

            And there is a widespread fear that Moscow-ordered efforts to clean up the peninsula will not result in a strengthening of the police and prosecutors but rather, as has been the case elsewhere, in more violence among the organized criminal groups, greater exploitation of the population, and a dramatic increase in the size of bribes and acts of intimidation.

            For most Russians, Crimea retains its image as a resort area, Kanyev says, but it is also a place of serious criminal activity and complicit police. He reports that experts now say that „the Crimean force structures are almost totally corrupt, and some of their employees work de facto for commercial strucutres, narcotics traffickers or the criminal authorities.“

            Not surprisingly, this has resulted in violence as the criminal groups fight among themselves for control and are not afraid to kill local officials, thus creating a situation which local residents say is even worse than anything in the wild 1990s that Moscow has worked to overcome.  In sum, crime isn’t well-organized and institutionalized; it is still very violent.

            The criminal groups in Crimea appeared at hte end of Soviet times and at first at least consisted primarily of „students at Crimean higher educational institutions, former boxers and fighters.“  They took over businesses and engaged in a variety of rackets, especially in the years when ethnic Russians controlled the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.

            Even when at the insistence of Kyiv the police have tried to move against them, the latter have been unsuccessful. Many of those against whom charges have been filed are still at large, either still in Crimea or in the Russian Federation. Without a wholesale cleansing, that is unlikely to change, as the region’s criminal groups have links with other such groups in Russia.

            The existing structure of the interior ministry of the Republic of Crimea „is practically indistiguishable“ from those found in a Russian region, Kanyev says.  The major difference is that the Crimean MVD has not disbanded the Administration for the Struggle with Organized Crime as the Russian ones have under Vladimir Putin.

            But that institution is poorly equipped to carry out the fight: it lacks the technical equipment it needs and its ranks are thoroughly compromise.  Many in Crimea expect the new Russian occupiers to try to clean things up but believe that will lead only to more bribery and a new fight over the division of property and criminal activities.

             And they fear that the high level of crime in the area won’t change anytime soon. Last year, there were 8.2 murders for every 100,000 residents in Sevastopol, compared to 3.7 in Kyiv and 3.8 in Lviv. And Crimea’s distinctiveness in this regard was true for other major crimes as well.

            By annexing Crimea, Moscow has absorbed these problems within its borders, problems that the Russian-dominated autonomy allowed to develop despite Kyiv’s efforts and ones that are certain to make life worse for ordinary Russians even as they contribute to the further enrichment of organized criminal groups in the Russian Federation.

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